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Second part of the series. Two steps forward…

Jake and David and their kids started spending time together on the weekends. They had barbeques at each other’s homes, picnics by the lake, went bike riding, and even to one of those water parks. Seven year old Lily, David’s youngest, and Scout, Jake’s baby, took quite a liking to one another; Lily seemed to think of Scout as her doll and Scout was more than content to be entertained by the older child.

David’s son ten year old son Evan, was a bit of a different story. He was always a quiet kid with his nose in a book before his mother died. He was even quieter and more withdrawn in the year since her death. David took him to a therapist, who he was slowly opening up to. But it was hard. He didn’t like change to begin with; having your mother taken from you at such a young age was simply torture. David was attentive and present. And worried.

One Sunday afternoon, the two dads and their kids went exploring at the Minnehaha Falls, a relatively small waterfall in the heart of Minneapolis. The dads brought a picnic and set out the food on a picnic blanket. Scout, now ten months old, couldn’t crawl yet, but she could sit up. Lily was quite content to read her stories and sing her songs. Evan sat a bit away, reading a book under a tree.

Jake and David took out the various foods and talked about their weeks.

“It’s fourth of July next week,” David said quietly. “We usually go to my in-law’s cabin up north. We didn’t go last year because it was only a couple months after Stephanie died. They really want me to bring the kids up.” He looked at Jake who was listening intently while also keeping his eye on Lily and Scout who were seated on a picnic blanket less next them.

Jake looked at David with understanding. “But it’s just too painful for you to go,” he said. It wasn’t with pity. He understood the internal conflict.

David stared up at the blue sky. Jake spoke up, “My in laws think that we shouldn’t be here for Scout’s first birthday. It’s too close to Susie’s death. So they want to take us all on a Cruise in Mexico…”

David wanted to be supportive. “Well maybe a cruise wouldn’t be terrible,” he tried, but his heart wasn’t in it.

Jake cocked his head sideways. “Dude. Do I look like the kinda guy who belongs on a cruise?”

The both laughed. “No, I guess not,” David responded.

Evan came over from the tree and took a half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He smiled at both of them. With his mouth full of food, he looked at his dad. “You know Dad, Lily and I could go up to the cabin and you could stay here if you don’t want to denizli escort go.” There was no anger in his voice. He was very matter of fact.

David smiled and felt his heart swell. “Thanks my boy. I didn’t realize that we were talking so loudly. I’m sorry. I’ll go with you. It will be fun,” the dad said, but truthfully, he said it half-heartedly.

“Dad,” Evan sighed. “It will be a lot of fun for me and Lily to go to the cabin with Nana and Poppy. We can fish. We can swim. Nana will bake us cookies and Poppy will tell ghost stories and we get to stay up late, eat s’mores for dinner, and have Frosted Flakes for breakfast every day!”

Jake laughed. “Smores are my favorite, Evan!” He said, watching Evan smile. “But this is serious.”

Evan’s eyes widen. “What?” he asked Jake.

Jake’s brow furrowed. “Are you the kinda guy who toasts his marshmallows so their nice and brown? Or are you one of those dudes who lights ’em on fire until they’re good and burnt?”

“Jake,” Evan said shaking his head. “There is one and only one way to roast a marshmallow. And that it is golden brown, so the outside is slightly crispy and the inside is warm and gooey.” He folded his arms. The kid was serious.

Jake burst out laughing. “Whew! I’m so glad. If you were one of those guys who burns the marshmallows, I was gonna have to pack up my stuff and get outta here. Cuz I just can’t be friends with guys who burn their marshmallows!” Evan started laughing, too. And David beamed. For the first time since Stephanie died, Evan looked happy.

On the way home later that afternoon, Evan was chattier than usual. “Dad,” he said. “Two things. First, please can Lily and me go to the cabin?”

“Ok,” David sighed, “I’ll think about it.”

“Great!” Evan said as he pumped his first.

“What’s the second thing?” David asked.

“Jake’s cool.”

David found himself smiling as Lily piped in. “Well, Jake is a very good daddy. But of course, Scout is my favorite because I’m her best friend.”

Evan retorted. “She has three teeth and can’t talk yet. How do you know she’s your best friend?”

“Well,” said Lily with great confidence. “Girls just know these things. You’re an icky boy. And boys don’t understand.”

David shook his head as the kids continued their conversation. But the smile never left his face. Yes. Jake was a great guy.

The next day, David spoke with his in-laws. They were more than happy to take the kids to their cabin for the week. David liked the idea of time alone in theory… but it had been almost a year and a half since he’d been away diyarbakır escort from the kids. He was a little nervous.

Jake called as he was thinking about what he’d do for a week without the kids and he shared his concerns with his friend. “Well David, c’mon over after you drop of Evan and Lily! We can spend the day together and then I can make us dinner,” he said enthusiastically.

David’s beaming smile radiated joy. “Well that sounds great. But you don’t have to cook. We can go out or pick something up,” he offered.

“Deal!” Responded Jake.

The next Saturday morning, David dropped the kids off at his in-laws. Lily raced off quickly; Evan was a little slower to let go. He hugged his dad tightly and then headed into the garage with his Poppy to help pack up the car.

David sat in his car for a minute to catch his breath. This was a big step, an important step. And he was a little shakey. When he got to Jake’s, he wondered if it was all a bad idea. Jake was outside watering the lawn, with Scout asleep in the Ergo.

“David,” he smiled. “How’d drop off go?” Jake got it. And somehow, that put all of David’s nerves at ease.

“Hi Jake. Lily did fine. Evan was a little more clingy… but eventually he was ok. And now I’m kid free for a week and I’m not sure how I feel,” he said honestly.

Jake nodded. “Makes sense. I figure if you don’t feel weird after all the fucked up stuff we’ve been through, you’re doing it wrong.”

Jake had a charming and almost simple elegance in how he cut through the bullshit and just said the truth. It relaxed David—it made him feel like he didn’t have to work so hard to express what he was feeling. Or feel bad about it.

“Thanks Jake. I guess you’re right. Somedays, it feels like my inside is a puzzle. All the pieces are there, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out how they go together. Does that sound stupid?”

Jake laughed. “Stupid? Naw. That’s one of the smartest things I’ve heard. You should call up Jean and tell her that. She can get it made into a grief pillow.”

The both laughed and headed inside. Jake got the diaper bag, changed Scout who had woken up, put her in the car seat, and then they were on their way.

They took a nice hike near Taylor’s Falls, found a cute sandwich place for lunch, walked around the little town, and headed back home around 6pm. Jake had made a beef stew the night before they had for dinner and they sat in the back yard and talked and laughed and ate.

After Jake put Scout to bed, he came back out with the baby monitor. David had lit the fire in antalya escort Jake’s fire pit and was talking with his kids, who were both sharing the adventures of their day. He hung up the phone with a smile.

“All ok?” Jake asked.

“Yep,” David said sitting back down in the lawn chair. “Everything is good. Kids are having a great time,” he said wistfully. He was glad and relieved.

“I’m glad to hear it,” Jake replied as he handed David a glass.

“What’s this for?” David inquired.

Jake smiled and pulled out a bottle of Jack Daniels. “Do you remember our first night in the grief group? And I asked why this wasn’t on the list of things that make you feel better?”

David nodded and smiled and Jake poured him a glass. They clinked glasses. “To good friends,” Jake toasted. David looked at him and a shiver went through his body.

They spent the next couple hours talking, laughing, telling stories of their lives, their relationships, their childhoods, and losing their virginity. The conversation flowed easily; the two men felt comfortable with each other—even safe.

It was after 11pm when David realized how late it was and stood up to leave. He wasn’t a big drinker and while they had imbibed slowly, he stumbled a bit as he stood. Jake caught him and stopped him from falling. In the process, the bigger younger man brought David into hug. David was a bit rigid at first, but it didn’t take long and within seconds he melted into Jake’s burly arms.

Neither man moved to end the hug. Both of them started to get hard. David found himself trembling. Jake held him tighter and found himself gently stroking David’s back and kissing the top of his head.

David gently lifted his head to meet Jake’s eyes. The two men—both of whom had married the women they loved—stared into each other’s eyes. Neither had ever been sexual with a man before. They weren’t struggling in the closet. They both had emotionally and sexually fulfilling relationships; David for 20 years with Stephanie, Jake for six years with Susie.

But in the dark fog of grief over the deaths of these two women, David and Jake found themselves drawn together, understanding each other’s unspeakable pain and giving the other tenderness, joy, and life.

Jake brought his nose to rest on David’s. He spoke quietly but clearly. “Don’t leave,” he asked. “Stay.”

David nodded slowly. The whirl of emotions inside him were intense and real and more than a little confusing. But with Jake he felt… alive again.

“Yes?” Jake asked.

“Yes,” David croaked out in a whisper as his lips pressed gently into Jake’s, his beard tickling David’s clean shaven face.

“Fuck,” Jake responded after the lengthy and gentle kiss.

“What?” David asked concerned.

“You’re sexy as hell,” Jake smiled coyly. David blushed. And kissed him again. They held hands as the last embers of the fire faded and in the darkness of the night, they walked into Jake’s house.

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